Storm watch: 7 things to know for October 16

1. Bolt of terror: A lightning strike out of the clear blue sky hit a family during an outing at the beach and left a 13-year-old boy in critical condition Tuesday.

  • The extremely rare incident came as the country has experienced an-also rare spate of tropical thunderstorms, which almost never strike this time of year.
  • Pictures of a badly burnt yarmulke are prominent in news coverage of the incident, as are accounts from Eliezer Hazut, who was injured along with his wife, two younger brothers, and cousin while having a day out at a beach near Ashkelon, where rockets are more common than lightning.
  • “We came for a day out. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we were hit by lightning and we all fell on the ground. After a few minutes, medical teams arrived and treated us and took us to the hospital,” he tells Israel Hayom.
  • Other news sites quote him saying that the group saw the storm coming and they started to pack up and then were suddenly hit.
  • Yedioth reports that a group of soldiers enjoying some R&R had begun to put up a tent nearby when the bolt hit, and others were nearby as well.
  • “I’ve never experienced lightning like that. We felt the awesome strike. It was unbelievable,” one eyewitness says.

2. Lightning doesn’t strike twice (in Israel): Haaretz notes that the storms blowing across the country the last several days, taking down sukkahs and ruining holiday outings, are actually seasonal.

  • “Thunderstorms in Israel in the fall are short, but they can be very strong,” the paper quotes IDC climate researcher Yoav Yair saying.
  • According to Channel 12 news, Israel still gets a lot less lightning than other places — a few thousand strikes a year as compared to hundreds of millions in tropical areas.
  • The channel reports that authorities only know of 10 people being hit by lightning in recent years and the last fatal strike was in 2007, when a fisherman was struck off the northern coast.
  • Helping matters is the fact that most in the country have shelter, though a number of news outlets print tips to make sure people know how to seek shelter are stay safe during a storm.
  • “Stay away from tall places and don’t lie on the ground,” advises Israel Hayom.
  • (Walla news, however, gives the bad advice that it’s better to stay close to the ground if caught in an open area to decrease the chances of being struck.)
  • Everyone agrees that staying in water while lightning is around is a bad idea, though it seems not everyone got the memo. As this writer can report after visiting a spring outside Jerusalem on Tuesday, even as lightning and thunder approached, kids and adults were seen continuing to leap into the water, ignoring the pleas of others to stay out.

3. Airshpizin: The storms also caused sporadic power outages, a bridge collapse, shuttered beaches and canceled concerts across the country, as Israelis marked the week-long Sukkot holiday.

  • A local Haifa news outlet reports that lightning is being blamed for a fire at a generator at an Intel plant in Haifa.
  • Clips posted online show tabernacles flying in the strong wind.
  • In a bit of biblical humor, many accompany their clips with the prayer “May the merciful raise up the booth (sukkah) of David that is fallen.”

4. All’s quiet on the political front: The country is much more used to political storms, though those have mostly been on the back burner during the Sukkot holiday, with government offices shuttered and politicians taking breaks.

  • Despite that, Yedioth notes that the clock is ticking on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his deadline to form a government, which is a week away, unless President Reuven Rivlin grants him a two-week extension. “Likud, Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu are continuing to dig in their heels on their positions making it hard to close any of the gaps between them, and so for several days there have been no contacts, talks or serious meeting between the sides.”
  • Israel Hayom, which is solidly in Likud’s corner, pushes the theory that Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu are hatching a plan by which they will agree to form a minority government, thus pushing out Netanyahu, and then call new elections, so that they will be run with Netanyahu out of power and thus weakened.
  • “Liberman will bring back the government of Oslo to topple Netanyahu,” columnist Eitan Orkabi complains in the paper.
  • “Liberman wants so badly to be the one who puts an end to the Netanyahu era that he was willing to abandon the national camp after the election and drag the country into a do-over. His conscience won’t bother him, not even if a narrow left-wing government is established to ensure that comes to pass,” he writes.

5. Meet or retreat: Blue and White Chief Benny Gantz will be meeting with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, according to an official statement Wednesday.

  • The meeting is out of the ordinary to say the least, leading to speculation about what it could be about, beyond the official explanation that the two will be talking about “regional challenges.”
  • “My theory: Kohavi is paving the way for a unity government,” surmises Haaretz reporter Josh Breiner on Twitter. “Netanyahu told Gantz that the security situation now is catastrophic and they need a unity government or Iran will kill them all. Gantz is not convinced so asks to meet with Kohavi. Kohavi tells Gantz that the situation is terrible and he’s not just asking for more billions over nothing. Or maybe I’m imagining it.”
  • Who will not be meeting is Netanyahu with his Japanese counterparts, having scrapped an apparently planned trip, ToI’s Raphael Ahren reports.
  • “Netanyahu had been set to leave for Tokyo on Saturday night in order to attend the October 22 enthronement of Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito. His aides did not confirm the trip, but did not deny that he was considering it. According to earlier reports, Netanyahu was also set to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his stay.”
  • “The Prime Minister’s Office had never confirmed the trip, but Hebrew-language reports said the Foreign Ministry along with Israel’s embassy in Tokyo had both been preparing for the premier’s visit.”

6. Knock, knock, knocking on Tzipi’s door: Despite the holiday, Haaretz reports that Netanyahu made official his request for Russian President Vladimir Putin to offer Israeli prisoner Naama Issachar clemency.

  • The paper reports that Issachar’s family thanked the prime minister “for his determination as a statesman.”
  • But Yedioth quotes Naama’s mother Yaffa Issachar complaining that for months the Foreign Ministry under Netanyahu’s command refused to move on the case, blaming deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely.
  • “We knocked on doors for months,” the paper quotes from a letter written by Yaffa, a preview of an article to be published over the weekend. “Bibi was the foreign minister, and I couldn’t go to him, so I went to her. Why didn’t you help when I asked 4-5 months ago? Where were you? I yelled, begged, came to you in Jerusalem, called.”
  • Haaretz also profiles Aleksey Burkov, the Russian hacker who may be central in securing Issachar’s release, calling him “one of Israel’s most famous prisoners.”
  • Rumors have swirled that the hacker, wanted in the US and sought by Moscow, may be connected to Russian intelligence. But nothing is confirmed and everything is under a heavy fog.
  • “What still remains unclear is the chain of events that led to Issachar’s severe sentence, and why Burkov has become ‘an asset of supreme importance’ to Moscow, as one senior Israeli official involved in the case put it. ‘The story is a mystery,’ a senior law enforcement official agreed,” the paper reports.

7. Whither Syria: Israeli-Russian ties are much more complicated and Jerusalem is paying close attention as the US pulled out of Syria, leaving a vacuum for Russia and its allies to fill.

  • “Russia’s increased presence is a dilemma for Israel because it can both contain Iran, but also prevent Israel from defending itself. That cedes even more power to Russia, which can determine the balance of power between the two sides,” Kersten Knipp writes for DW.
  • “It’s hard to find any positive aspect of what’s going on in Syria,” Channel 13’s Alon ben David writes. “All the negative forces in the region are growing stronger after the US abandoned it and the Turks moved in.”
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer writes that the real winner is Syrian President Bashar Assad, looking at how he has now won his country’s bloody civil war.
  • “Ultimately, Assad won because he was prepared to drown his country in blood to remain in power, with Iranian and Russian help. And in his vainglorious stupidity, Trump has merely ushered Assad over the finish line. But the Syrian president couldn’t have won unless Obama, Netanyahu and Erdogan had allowed him to,” he writes.

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